Zucker­berg nears end of US tour, wants to boost small biz

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NEW YORK (AP) — What’s Mark Zucker­berg’s big­gest takeaway as he wraps up a year of travel to dozens of U.S. states? The im­por­tance of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“Most of the dis­cus­sion we have na­tion­ally is about what the gov­ern­ment should do, or to some de­gree what fam­i­lies should do,” the Face­book CEO said in an in­ter­view. “Peo­ple don’t spend that much time talk­ing about com­mu­nity, and I think prob­a­bly that’s the most im­por­tant part of peo­ple’s sup­port struc­ture.”

To this end, Zucker­berg is an­nounc­ing a pro­gram to boost small busi­nesses and bol­ster in­di­vid­ual tech­ni­cal skills both on and off Face­book. The move shows how in­ter­twined Face­book has be­come not just in our so­cial lives, but in en­trepreneurs’ eco­nomic sur­vival and growth.

Face­book says more than 70 mil­lion small busi­nesses use its ser­vice. Only 6 mil­lion of them ad­ver­tise.

“If this were purely about our ad busi­ness or some­thing like that, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be the pri­mary per­son talk­ing about it,” Zucker­berg said. “But be­cause we are kick­ing off this whole pro­gram that I think is go­ing to be crit­i­cal to the whole mis­sion fo­cus­ing on build­ing com­mu­nity, I thought it was an im­por­tant thing to do.”

Face­book wouldn’t say how many of its own em­ploy­ees will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Com­mu­nity Boost pro­gram, which will “visit” 30 U.S. cities next year and of­fer peo­ple free train­ing on a range of dig­i­tal skills. Those will in­clude cod­ing, build­ing web­sites and — nat­u­rally — us­ing Face­book for their busi­ness.

The com­pany has launched a smaller ver­sion of the pro­gram in Detroit, where it is pay­ing to train 3,000 peo­ple in dig­i­tal skills through a lo­cal group called Grand Cir­cus.

Zucker­berg said he thinks these are some “spe­cific things” Face­book can do to help boost the econ­omy and small busi­nesses, “both be­cause it’s go­ing to be good for our prod­ucts and busi­ness and be­cause it’s go­ing to be good for this mis­sion of build­ing a com­mu­nity even be­yond our own in­ter­ests.”

Last week, Face­book’s top lawyer tes­ti­fied in Congress along with ex­ec­u­tives from Google and Twit­ter on Rus­sia’s use of on­line ser­vices to med­dle with the 2016 U.S. elec­tions. Be­tween that and con­cerns that Face­book has en­cour­aged po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion and the spread of fake news, it’s been a tough year for the com­pany. Amid the tur­moil, Zucker­berg has re­newed his pub­lic fo­cus on mak­ing Face­book a force for good in the world.

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